Qantas chair says he and Alan Joyce are ‘not going anywhere’

Qantas chairman Leigh Clifford at an Institute of Company Directors lunch in Melbourne today. Picture by Wayne Taylor 14th November 2017. AFR. Qantas planes at Sydney Airport this morning.n air travel has been plunged into chaos following the grounding of all Qantas domestic and international aircraft in response to the ongoing workplace dispute. SMH NEWS PIC BY LEE BESFORD. Sunday October 30th 2011.

Qantas chairman Leigh Clifford has thrown cold water on speculation he is preparing to hand the controls over to outgoing Wesfarmers boss Richard Goyder, saying that he and his chief executive Alan Joyce are “not going anywhere”.

This month marks a decade since the former Rio Tinto chief executive was appointed to chair the airline, and the election of Mr Goyder to Qantas’ board last month has sparked talk of succession moves being under way.

But Mr Clifford cut that short at a business lunch in Melbourne on Tuesday, also ruling out plans to replace Mr Joyce, who has been CEO for nine years.

“I’m not going anywhere, neither is Alan,” he said. “And if we are, and if we decide to do something, you’ll be the first to know.”

The two leading internal candidates to replace Mr Joyce have changed jobs in the past month, in a move company watchers interpreted as a way to build up their knowledge of the airline’s business.

Gareth Evans has moved from CEO of Qantas International to lead the airline’s low-cost carrier Jetstar, while Jetstar’s CEO Jayne Hrdlicka is moving to head-up Qantas’ booming loyalty and digital ventures business.

Mr Clifford on Tuesday also detailed the steps he and the Qantas board took before putting the airline’s weight behind the campaign to legalise same-sex marriage.

“The fact that the CEO’s gay is a contributing factor,” Mr Clifford said of the decision. “Alan felt very strongly about this, and we’d talked about it over a period of time.

“We discussed it at the board, and we wanted to support our CEO.”

Mr Clifford said he spoke to Qantas’ major shareholders about whether it should back the campaign and found one to be “a bit ambivalent”, while “a couple were strongly supportive, and a couple were acquiescent if not supportive”.

He also used an employee survey to gauge workers’ opinions, and found they largely mirrored the wider community in being “sick of hearing about this”.

“I wanted to make sure our employees we’re not being pressured, and I satisfied myself of that,” Mr Clifford said.

While customers’ views were harder to gauge, he said Qantas’ customer satisfaction rating had never been higher since it joined the campaign for change.

Qantas’ support for same-sex marriage was criticised by figures such as Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, who said public companies should “stick to their knitting”.

“I got a lot of criticism too, but I got a hell of a lot of support too,” he said.

Mr Clifford also disputed the widely-held view that his appointment of Mr Joyce as CEO in 2008 was the outcome of a two-horse race between the Irishman and now-Virgin boss John Borghetti.

He said that in fact, he interviewed four candidates from within Qantas and another n candidate, three candidates from the United States and one from Britain.

“The decision I came to was that Alan was the outstanding candidate. And I think subsequent performance justifies that decision,” he said.

However, Mr Clifford conceded that some shareholders had pressured him about his CEO when Qantas was struggling. Mr Joyce famously grounded the airline in 2011 amid an industrial dispute and the airline ran at an unprecedented $2.8 billion loss in 2014.

“When times were pretty tough at Qantas I had a few shareholders on my shoulder whispering in my year,” Mr Clifford said. “I made it clear to them that my biggest fear was that Alan would leave and go and run another airline.”

Qantas delivered its highest ever underlying profit in 2016 ($1.53 billion) and its second-highest ever last year ($1.4 billion).

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